MLB In Full Bloom - Giants Preview - 3/5/2014

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27– Number of days until Opening Day

56,224 – Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday

San Francisco Giants Preview

Key Additions: Tim Hudson, Michael Morse, Tyler Colvin

Key Departures: Barry Zito, Chad Gaudin, Andres Torres

Everything went right for the Giants in 2012, and not much went right for them in 2013. Actually, very little went right for them on the mound in 2013. The only starters to have an ERA under 4.00 were Madison Bumgarner and Chad Gaudin, who made more appearances out of the bullpen than in the rotation. The Giants sent out  nine pitchers last year that provided very little value over double digit innings. Surprisingly, the Giants offense was a strength rather than a weakness, and if they repeat that performance while the pitching turns things around, it could be a fun season in the Bay Area.

OFFENSE: The San Francisco Giants offense in 2013 ranked tenth in the National League in runs scored and 4th in batting average. Those two numbers are very solid. But, the two glaring stats with the Giants offense from last season is the home runs hit and runs scored. The Giants ranked 14th out of 15 National League teams and 29th in baseball with 107 home runs, and they also only scored 607 runs which was 21th in baseball. The Giants were without Angel Pagan for most of the season due to injury, Pablo Sandoval was 40 pounds overweight, Buster Posey wore down with about two months of the season left, and Marco Scutaro was dealing with ligament damage in his pinky finger and a sore back which limited his effectiveness. The Giants have pretty much the same lineup intact as last season. The only exception is Michael Morse, who the Giants signed as a free agent this offseason. The Giants are looking for some of the previously mentioned players to bounce back, players to stay healthy and players continuing to develop. If everything goes well, the Giants lineup will be very solid 1-8 with no easy outs in their lineup. Obviously for the Giants to be successful they need to stay healthy, and have everybody produce the way they are capable.

STARTING PITCHING: The Giants will go as far as their starting rotation will take them. Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong make up the rotation in 2014. Let's not forget that the meat and potatoes of this rotation has helped the Giants win two of the last four World Series. Gone is Barry Zito and his 9.56 road ERA and Hudson is in as the replacement. Cain had an excellent second-half of the season last year and Lincecum continued to improve. If both those trends continue this year, the outlook is relatively bright for the once-heralded Giants rotation.

BULLPEN: Between the rotation's struggles in 2013, the bullpen remained a strength and the prognosis for the upcoming isn't much different. Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez will continue to be one of the more reliable groups of late-inning relievers in the game while journeyman Jean Machi also stepped up and earned a spot last season. "Closer of the Future" Heath Hembree is waiting in the wings and should become a mainstay in 2014. 

2014 PREDICTION: If the Giants' pitching staff pitches like it did during their 2010 and 2012 World Series runs, and the offense hits like it did over the last two seasons, this team will battle for a division title and their third World Championship in five years. However, a more realistic prediction is that everything will probably end up balancing out. Michael Morse and Pablo Sandoval will miss time, and the key Giants offensive players probably won't be as good as they was in ether of the last two years. I doubt that their rotation in 2014 will be Madison Bumgarner and four guys that nobody has heard of before because of injury or poor performance. The Giants rotation will more than make up for any decline in the team's offensive production. The Giants aren't better than the Dodgers unless everything falls apart in Los Angeles, but I do think they're going to battle the Diamondbacks all season for a Wild Card spot in the National League. .

Final Record: 85-77 (3rd place in NL West)

MLB In Full Bloom - Dodgers Preview 3/4/2014

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28– Number of days until Opening Day

56,224 – Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday

LOS ANGELES DODGERS PREVIEW

Key Additions: Alex Guerrero, Dan Haren, Paul Maholm, Chris Perez

Key Departures: Mark Ellis, Nick Punto, Skip Shumaker, Michael Young, Ricky Nolasco

The Dodgers head into 2014 with the highest expectations of any team. They came two wins away from a World Series appearance.  The Dodgers lineup and pitching staff are stacked and they’re easily favored to win the NL West for a second straight year.  However, as Dodgers fans know, the key to their success is health. Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley were among the key Dodgers who missed considerable time due to injury last season.  In fact, the only Dodgers player to play more than 150 games last year was Adrian Gonzalez. The team added depth to the bullpen and starting rotation in the off-season, but the team may not have as much depth on the bench this season.

OFFENSE: If healthy, the Dodgers everyday lineup is scary and should score a lot of runs. I would like to see Yasiel Puig hit leadoff, but I wouldn't trust him there full-time until he cuts down on his strikeout total. That being said, he showed a remarkable improvement in plate discipline down the stretch and in the playoffs and would likely lead off when Carl Crawford is getting a rest. Crawford will be an integral part of the Dodgers' success in 2014 if he can stay healthy. With so many potent bats immediately following the leadoff hitter and the addition of Alex Guerrero, the Dodgers offense should be even stronger than last year. When Matt Kemp returns to the lineup, expect him to bat 5th and protection for Adrian Gonzalez.

STARTING PITCHING: The top of the Dodgers’ pitching staff is the best in baseball, but last year and especially in the playoffs, the team lacked depth at the back end of the rotation. The off-season additions of Dan Haren and Paul Maholm along with the return of a healthy Josh Beckett should provide that depth the Dodgers need. Clayton Kershaw, who signed his seven-year $215 million deal this offseason, Zack Greinke, and Hyun Jin Ryu make up the top of the rotation.

BULLPEN: The bullpen will also remain largely intact as the team re-signed Brian Wilson and added former Indians’ closer Chris Perez to the bullpen, giving the Dodgers one of the deeper bullpens in the game.  J.P. Howell, Jamey Wright, Chris Withrow, Paco Rodriguez and Seth Rosin will all have a chance to make an impact in the bullpen this year.  Kenley Jansen is a top tier closer and he blew away hitters last year. If he does falter, the Dodgers have Wilson, Perez, and Brandon League that could fill in. On paper, the Dodgers have one of the best bullpens heading into the season.

2014 Prediction: The Dodgers are a very good team. Their spending has assured them of that. However, they're not World Champs yet. It's going to take a healthy and productive season from up and down the roster. The most realistic scenario probably has Matt Kemp in about 120 games or so, with an outfielder being jettisoned at the trade deadline. Yasiel Puig picks up where he left off, if not just a slight regression. Clayton Kershaw remains dominant at the top of the league's best staff. The Dodgers take the division over the Diamondbacks and fight for the NL pennant.

FINAL RECORD: 96-66 (First place in NL West)

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